From: The Netherlands.
DJ style: “Pop/electronic.”
Best known for: “Tracks such as ‘Animals’, ‘In The Name Of Love’, ‘Scared To Be Lonely’ and ‘We Are The People’.”
Fave tune of 2022: “The Weeknd & Swedish House Mafia ‘Sacrifice’.”
Rising star DJ/producer of 2022: “Andruss.”
Martin Garrix has hit No. 1 in the Top 100 DJs poll for the fourth time, an astonishing achievement in a career already filled with defining moments. After a vertiginous live streamed show from the top of New York’s Empire State Building, he tells DJ Mag about working with U2, writing music on guitar, how he stays grounded, his charity work and his STMPD label — and explains that staying independent has been a recipe for happiness and success.
Martin Garrix has once more ascended to the apex of the Top 100 DJs poll for 2022. The prodigious young Dutchman is still only 26, having broken through onto the scene in his mid-teens via his proto-EDM tune ‘Animals’, and scooped the Top 100 DJs crown in 2016 and the subsequent two years. His great friend and mentor David Guetta won the poll the last two years, and now Garrix is back on top.
It’s a placing that is well deserved — and not completely unexpected. Garrix really is up there in the superstar bracket now, transcending the dance scene to mingle alongside the likes of Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, Usher and U2, all of whom he has collaborated with. His fourth victory takes him above Guetta and his other great friend and mentor, Tiësto, in the all-time DJ popularity stakes, and is second only to Dutch trance overlord Armin van Buuren, with his five No.1s. How does that notoriety feel to Martin?
“That’s very surreal,” says Garrix, speaking to DJ Mag on Zoom from New York. “For me, to be in the list in general, I’m in the list with all the people I look up to. I started making music because of Tiësto, and I’m a huge David [Guetta] fan. I’m very grateful for the support and being included on the list, it’s very crazy.”
We’re speaking with Martin the day after he pre-recorded his winner’s set. This was no run-of-the-mill live-stream, recorded in the back room of a club or similar. Martin’s set came from atop a world famous, 102-storey Art Deco building in the middle of Manhattan — the Empire State Building, no less. How was it for him?
“It was surreal,” he replies, chirpily. “It’s one of the most iconic buildings in the world, so being on top playing my music was very special. Music has brought me to many crazy places, but this was definitely high up there.
“The view was incredible,” he continues. “It was bizarre. There were some funny tweets we saw, because we didn’t announce anything and people were wondering why at 3am there was this crazy light-show going on. We were initially going to start recording at midnight, but could only start setting up after the visitors left for the day, so it took a little longer. I think we started recording at 2.30am. It was fine, I had so much adrenaline from being there, it was very special.”
The Empire State Building has featured in more than 250 films and TV shows, from King Kong — soon after its construction in 1933 — to a slew of classic US action/adventure movies. The likes of Eminem, Ed Sheeran and Elton John have been permitted to perform on top of it, but no DJ had conquered its apex — until now.
Speaking from his New York hotel room, Garrix is buzzing from his DJ set, however late it started. “It went well, I really enjoyed it,” he says. “Of course, it’s different if you’re playing without an audience, but it was fun. When I got off the Tower, I was very happy with how everything went.”
He generally finds it easier to play in front of a crowd, “because then you can see how the energy is and you can take them on a journey with you”, he says. “When I do a live stream, I think more about how people can enjoy it at home, it’s a completely different type of set and atmosphere. I love both.”
Martin himself has certainly been on a journey over the past decade. In June 2013, at the age of 16, he released the innovative electro-house track ‘Animals’, and by November he was No.1 in the UK and other territories, and No.40 in the Top 100 DJs poll. He was quickly thrust onto big stages — did this terrify him at the time?
“Yeah, 100%,” he admits. “I’m still nervous for the shows — last night I was nervous. But I think it’s good to have some sense of nervousness, because it means you care. The moment I’m onstage, the moment I start playing, it turns to adrenaline and focus. Because for me I want every set, every show, to be the best, for everybody to have a good time.”
‘Animals’ was the most played song at Tomorrowland festival in 2013. Garrix wasn’t DJing there yet, of course — he was an unknown 16-year-old who was at the event with some of his childhood friends. “I remember I was in the crowd at the main stage and David Guetta did a back-to-back with Afrojack and Nicky Romero, and I heard the intro of ‘Animals’ being mixed in,” he recalls. “I got goosebumps everywhere. I was partying with my friends, we were just having a good time, we were jumping up and down and screaming. I think I lost my voice. At that point I thought, ‘This is the peak, this is it’. From there, it started rolling — the next year Tomorrowland booked me. So that was very special.”
The soaraway international success of ‘Animals’ undeniably changed his life. “I went from going to high school and DJing high school parties to suddenly playing Tomorrowland or Ultra,” he says. “That year in particular, when ‘Animals’ got released, it was like a rollercoaster — but it didn’t stop. Now if I see pictures from that time, I barely remember, because it was so on autopilot, and every crazy thing that happened then suddenly got surpassed by another.”
Martin’s sets have changed quite a bit since he first started playing big shows. “At that time I didn’t have enough Garrix music,” he outlines. “I had more than enough Garrix music to fill an hour or two, but at the time I was playing a lot of songs from other artists as well. Now with Garrix sets, it’s almost always most of the stuff that I produce myself — or edits that I did, or remixes. That’s definitely changed.
“And at the time I genuinely didn’t care about the lights, the lasers, the visuals; my main focus was just the music, and it was the only thing I was thinking about. Now with shows, we have months of programming with the team where we decide the colour of each individual beam, virtually...” he grins. “I definitely learned a lot, I grew as the show grew and the production team grew. It started with just being me and my manager, who was travelling with me everywhere. I did the music, and he did everything from behind the screens — everything at the same time. But now there’s a whole crew, it’s very different to when we started.”
Garrix had signed a deal with Spinnin’ Records before ‘Animals’ came out, but parted ways with them in 2016 after a dispute over ownership of his music, and set up his own label — STMPD RCRDS.
“I wanted to have full freedom,” he says. “I didn’t want people in my ear saying, ‘Oh, you should do one more song like this or that’. I have the most joy if I go in the studio and make whatever I feel like making, and I also can release it.
“Since we started with STMPD, I’m so happy with everybody who’s joined the label. We’ve released so many cool songs through STMPD,” he continues. “It’s funny, because the name ‘STMPD’… my father had an auction company specialising in stamps, so STMPD RCRDS is based on that, and the logo is stamped. But for me to be independent and have my own label is perfect.”
He mentions STMPD artist Brooks, who he’s released three tracks with, and Julian Jordan (“I love playing his stuff in my sets, it’s very energetic”) as standout artists on his label, before stating: “Every artist on STMPD is different and has their own sound, which is what I like so much. And everybody can do what they want — we’re not going to be like ‘Do this, do that, follow this trend’. If it’s a good song, it’s a good song, and we’ll release it.”
Nowadays, Martin goes into the studio whenever he’s inspired — which needn’t be every day. “Even when I travel I can be inspired with new ideas,” he says. “The only thing is, for me to finish an idea, I have to be home in my own studio. It’s better that I’m comfortable, I know the sound system, it’s my own happy place. But to create ideas, that happens everywhere. I find myself writing a lot on the guitar.”
Garrix learned the guitar aged eight, and started recording guitar ideas into a computer. After witnessing Tiësto on TV, DJing at the 2004 Olympics opening ceremony, he fell in love with electronic music, wanted to be a DJ, and started making his own electronic tracks with guitar ideas. Nowadays when he’s travelling, he always has his production laptop with him, “and sometimes even just a voice-note recording is enough to re-trigger the idea I had in my brain,” he says of his creative process.
Creativity can’t be forced, he reiterates. He starts telling a story about how his team rented a studio for him in LA, thinking he would be super-productive.
“But then I just didn’t like the room. At the end of the week I told the team, ‘Guys, all I did in the studio was just chilling and looking at YouTube videos’. And then on the flight back to Amsterdam from LA I did four ideas — it all depends on how I feel, on my mood. The fun thing with songwriting is if it sounds good with just a vocal and a guitar, you can produce an electronic version, you can produce a rock version, you can take it in any direction you want. Every song starts differently and ends differently.”
It’s interesting that Garrix continually references ‘songs’. A lot of DJs call their music ‘tracks’, but songs and lyrics are obviously tremendously important to him.
“Especially the songs with lyrics, they always start with a guitar/vocal or piano/vocal, and then afterwards I produce it out,” he says. “I’d much rather write on stripped-down versions, nail the song, and then start producing it out. So the song is strong on its own, it’s not relying on the production.”
With all too many vocal dance tracks, the lyrics are an afterthought; with Garrix songs like ‘Scared To Be Lonely’, ‘Starlight’ or ‘High On Life’, the intelligent song-craft really shines through. “I don’t want to stick words in a song just because there’s a space for it,” he says. “I really enjoy the songwriting process — I have a soft spot for beautiful chord progressions, beautiful melodies.”
Martin has collaborated and released songs with a lot of artists in the dance scene over the past decade, but DJ Mag wants to know why his collab with Ed Sheeran never came out. “I really like being independent right now; there are no people in suits who control the music,” is all he’ll say on the matter, seemingly implying that major label bigwigs effectively blocked its release. One huge collab that did come out recently, however, was his hook-up with singer Bono and guitarist The Edge from U2.
“I’ll tell you the full story,” he says. “In the run-up to Euro 2020, they [FIFA] reached out to me to do all the music — for when the players walk on the field to when they lift the trophy. I wrote this demo, and this place-holder guitar had a little bit of The Edge vibes. At one point I was like, ‘Wow, it would be insane if they came onboard’. It was a big project, so maybe there was a chance? We sent them the demo and then the same evening I’m on the phone with Bono and he’s singing melodies, sending voice-notes of him just jamming to the version that I sent. I was in bed that night thinking, ‘What just happened?’
“Then I flew to the South of France, we finalised the lyrics together, we recorded him and then I finalised the production of the song. It was super-fun. I learned so much from working with them, and what inspired me the most is that they’re still so hungry, so excited. They’re constantly trying to challenge themselves, trying new things, always over-thinking. Like, we finalised the whole song and then Bono is like, ‘Wait, I think I can beat this lyric, I think I can improve this part’. In their eyes, a song is never finished — it can always improve, it can always evolve. It was very cool to work with them.”
He won’t be drawn as to whether he’s done any more work with U2, but does mention that there are several exciting projects he’s been working on.
“I was at Marvel [in New York] this morning, and I did something for a new video game they’re launching,” he says, “there’s all these projects in the works at the same time, which I’m very excited about.
“What else am I excited about? I’m excited to get touring again, I’m excited about the music — I have some really exciting songs I’m working on. I’ve got some really exciting vocal collaborations coming up — there’s a lot of things. I want to focus more on producing for movies and series, like scoring. I feel like I’m still at the start somehow — it’s a weird feeling. There’s still so many unexplored things that I want to discover and have fun and mess around and experiment with — sonically, artistically.”
A lot of people might only reach the top of their game when they’re 26 years old or over, if at all, but Garrix has been at the top of his game for nearly 10 years, and has clearly got many years more in front of him.
“For me, my main goal is always to be challenging myself sonically, and most importantly to have fun,” he says. “Everything that I put time into comes from passion, because I love it. My goal for the next 10 years is to continue having fun, experimenting, trying new things, trying to reinvent myself as a producer and a songwriter and a DJ, and still trying to learn every day. I feel like I’m still learning so much every day.”
2022 has been the first full year back for most of the international dance scene, and Garrix — like everybody else — is glad to be back. How was the pandemic for him?
“The first few months were awful because I had no routine and I was so used to touring, touring, touring,” he says. “Before Covid, I always had it in my head that I’d have to finish stuff, see my sister and my parents and my friends, finish this in the studio and then go back on tour again. But then Covid came and I had zero routine, which messed a lot with my head. I tried to make music in the studio, but there were no shows that I could play songs in so I didn’t feel like making party, uplifting music. It was like, ‘Why would I make uplifting music to bring people together if there’s nobody coming together?’ So I went into a weird place, made some weird music — I did a lot of rock music, and some songs that will be released next year not under my Garrix name but with a big famous band,” he says, mysteriously. “So I was focusing on those things. And then some shows started to come back and I found my excitement again to make house music, electronic music. But before that I was jamming on my guitar, writing. There’s a crazy amount of unreleased songs on my computer.
“When I’m in the studio and I'm making something, I’m like, ‘Fuck, I can’t wait to play this live, or test it out’,” he continues. “I play it and I go back in the studio and think, ‘Ah, the low-end sucked, the kick should be more punchy’ — anything. For me, playing it in front of the audience is a big step before I decide to release the song. So it was weird when that was taken away.
“Now looking back at Covid, I learned so much about myself as well. I got my routines back, and I realised how important rest is as well — I’d basically been going non-stop until Covid hit. It was nice to see my family and friends a lot. What it taught me the most is never ever take anything for granted — family, time with your loved ones, time at home, time away travelling. Hugging — I love hugging, and that wasn’t really possible throughout Covid. It definitely opened my eyes on what’s important. I think everybody learned something during Covid — about themselves, about other people, about what’s important to them, what’s not important.”
Among various festival appearances, Martin held down a 10-week residency at Ushuaïa in Ibiza this summer, which he describes as “beautiful”. “The whole island was buzzing, for every party the energy was contagious,” he smiles. “It was very nice to see Ibiza back in its glory. For the two years during Covid, I spent some time in Ibiza, and you saw all the peeling billboards from summer ’19 — they made you sad, it was like ‘Fuck’. So it felt really good being back on the island this summer, seeing all the familiar faces. And the crew at all the venues — at Ushuaïa it was the same crew as they had three years ago, it was like a long overdue reunion. There was something in the air — it was wild.”
He starts talking about playing three-hour after-hours sets in the green room after his regular sets on the big Ushuaïa stage. “Of course, if I do a Garrix set in Ibiza they expect things like ‘High On Life’, ‘Name Of Love’, the bigger Garrix songs, but I also like to play some weird, clubby darker stuff — I like the after-parties as well,” he admits. “I’ll play groovy, housey, fun vibes — a lot of dancing, sometimes some classics in between. It depends on who’s there — we always have back-to-backs. I can play a few songs and then go to the bar and drink. It’s just fun.”
(Another little-known fact about Garrix is his production aliases, such as GRX and YTRAM — but discussion about them is for another day).
Many top DJs in recent years have taken to supporting charities and causes, mirroring the international scene’s preoccupation with community and empathy, and Garrix is no exception. He’s an ongoing ‘international friend’ of the SOS Children’s Village project in South Africa — a non-profit organisation that “builds families for orphaned, abandoned, and other vulnerable children around the world” — and also a supporter of War Child, the network of NGOs that supports children and young people affected by war and armed conflict. Why is his charitable work important to him?
“With what’s happening in the world, it’s fucked,” he says, bluntly. “I feel like everybody who can help — even just with a little impact — should help people if they can. I get so much joy from doing my shows and I’m very grateful for the position that I’m put in, but I want to use it to do good and to help others.”
He starts talking about visiting some of the villages for orphaned kids himself, hearing stories of what some of the children have been through, and meeting some of the ‘mothers’ who take care of five to 10 kids each in a house. “It gives you so much hope in humanity, how beautiful and friendly and open they are,” he says. “They don’t judge, they’re just thankful.
“Whenever I’m touring, I like to make a pitstop to visit these places and see what the money is used for,” he continues. “A lot of times, if you donate you don’t see what happens to your money, and you hear all the stories about the CEO of a charity with a huge income — ‘What’s this?’ Because I travel a lot, I get to see quite a lot what they’re doing and how they’re helping the community, how they’re helping to rebuild. Also War Child — what they’re doing is incredible. Also for Ukraine. Yes, I’m very passionate about this.”
Garrix talks with a maturity beyond his years, and despite his incredible international success comes across as grounded, level-headed and exceedingly well-adjusted. DJ Mag asks him about an interview with Armin van Buuren a few years back, during which the Dutch trance golden boy admitted to experiencing a mental health wobble after he got to No.1 in the Top 100 DJs poll — because the only way from the apex, in theory, was down. The dark side of success. Did anything like that remotely happen to Martin when he stopped being No. 1 for a bit?
“No, not really,” he says. “For me, my main focus is not lists or charting, my main goal with my music and my shows is to make sure that the people who listen — the people who go to my shows — are happy, that I’m happy. It goes both ways, and I’m very thankful for the support and also for the spot in the list. But also it doesn’t affect me in a way — if I’m [number] five or 10, I’m just grateful to be on the list and to play shows and play my music.”
From the start, Martin has had a strong and loyal team around him, and a supportive family. “I was very young when all the craziness started already. My parents, my sister but also my team have been super-close to me and basically guided me along through the craziness,” he says. “It’s been super-fun, and without them I would definitely not be sitting here.”
Garrix has won assorted MTV awards, YouTube awards and radio awards, as well as this being his fourth Top 100 DJs award-winning gong. Where does he keep all these trophies? “I have them at the office — I don’t have awards at my house,” he shares. “I don’t like awards in my house, I like art. At STMPD studios in Amsterdam some of the awards and plaques are there, and some of them are at the office.
“What art do I like? I’m a huge [French photographer/graffiti artist] JR fan. Talking about charities and helping people, he’s the prime example of how I think you can make the world a little bit of a better place. His recent documentary is called Paper & Glue. It’s two hours and I think I’ve watched it more than 10 times. I love Banksy too, and I love collecting rocks — like crystals.”
He reels off the names of various crystals. “I read a lot about rocks and I love that they’re formed... it’s like art from nature. Any painting in the world can be copied down to the finest detail, you can’t see the difference, and then you have these rocks — I collect ones that have crazy shapes, and I love that there are perfect squares in nature too. I’m reading up a lot about how and where they’re formed, where they are mined, if they’re mined in the right environments with the right circumstances, and if the people who mine them are treated respectfully — unlike with diamonds. Besides music, that’s my other big hobby.”
Collecting rocks, collecting awards — is there anything this amateur geologist and expert professional musician can’t do? He’s climbed the Empire State Building and owned it like a colossus, and now it’s time for him to go and begin the next chapter of his amazing story.
“Thank you so much for the support,” Martin says, signing off. “I didn’t expect it at all this year, I’ll never ever take it for granted. I’m super-excited, and hopefully I’ll see you guys very soon down the road.”
What’s the best DJ set you’ve seen this year?
“Swedish House Mafia in Vegas.”
Name one great festival you played for the first time this year…
“I played my first ever show in Sardinia at Red Valley Festival, which was very special.”
What’s the longest DJ set you’ve ever played?
“I played a three-hour set at my ADE shows. But I have played four hours at an after-party as well.”
What’s one piece of studio hardware you wish you owned?
“I bought a studio complex in Amsterdam a couple of years ago, STMPD Studios, and they actually have everything I could ever need over there.”
What’s the last tune you bought?
“Eliza Rose ‘B.O.T.A (Baddest Of Them All)’.”